What should 1 May stand for?

For more than 130 years people have demonstrated for better working conditions and wages every year on 1 May. Europe's press looks at the significance of the public holiday, the importance of work today, and how to improve the situation for workers.

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Ziarul Financiar (RO) /

Changing rapidly

In Ziarul Financiar, entrepreneur Dragoș Damian takes a fast-motion look at the changes in working conditions:

“A century and a half have passed since the first industrial revolution with water and steam, mechanisation, 15-hour working days in dreadful and dangerous conditions for meagre wages, with the exploitation of minors; to the fourth industrial revolution in 2010 with digitalisation, robots and artificial intelligence, the 4-day week, working from home, teleworking, diversity, equal rights and inclusion. ... Digitalisation, robots and artificial intelligence will no doubt replace many professions. ... Let's see which workers celebrate May Day 10, 20 or 30 year from now, and how.”

T24 (TR) /

Exploited and oppressed

T24 finds it remarkable that there are still critical trade unions in Turkey at all:

“The structure of the working class and its position in society and in the production process are changing not only in our country, but all over the world, which is making trade union organisation more difficult. But at least within the OECD, there is no other country where the labour sector has faced such a heavy onslaught by neoliberal forces as in Turkey over the past 20 years. Considering the destructive impact of the rapacious, brutal and immoral policies, exacerbated by the economic crisis and the country's authoritarian regime, the mere fact that the Confederation of Revolutionary Labour Unions of Turkey DİSK and other such trade union structures have survived for so long should be considered a success.”

Público (PT) /

Bring on the 4-day week

Portugal should seriously consider introducing a four-day week, writes labour expert Pedro Gomes in Público:

“We're all familiar with the inspiring power of the four-day week in the desert of ideas in which we live. The trade unions would do well to include this issue in their priorities for negotiations and collective action. The fight for a shorter working week is a fight for better conditions for workers, for a better organisation of the economy and for a healthier society in which people have more time for themselves and their families, for culture, civic engagement and the exercise of their freedom.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

Work is not an imposition

It is the labour of each and every citizen that ensures social cohesion, the Kleine Zeitung insists:

“Society is an energy system: everyone puts energy in and takes energy out. But that can only work as long as everyone is prepared to put their all into it. If too many people withdraw from the labour market by working part-time, taking time off or retiring early, cohesion threatens to break down. The same is true if we fail to integrate asylum seekers into the labour market. That's why we need a basic consensus: work is not an imposition but the embodiment of solidarity that comes from being there for each other.”

Le Soir (BE) /

More taxes on capital, less on wages

Bruno Fierens and Djaffar Shalchi from the network Millionaires for Humanity call for fairer tax systems in Le Soir:

“We believe that a healthy society needs a healthy level of fairness, and from our privileged position we can clearly see that the current rules of the game are not fair. They are damaging to the social fabric, and the political polarisation in countries with even less equality shows that they also endanger democracy. ... The opportunities to reduce this growing divide and make the system fairer are numerous, but our message to policy makers is simple: pay less attention to us and make things fairer by taxing capital more and labour less.”

Yetkin Report (TR) /

A sore point for Erdoğan

President Erdoğan has banned demonstrations on Istanbul's Taksim Square citing security risks. The square has great symbolic power because 34 people were killed there during the May Day demonstration in 1977, but also because the anti-government Gezi Park protests took place there in 2013. It is therefore a sore point for Erdoğan, Yetkin Report reminds readers:

“One might ask whether the real issue for Erdoğan is 1 May or Taksim Square. Perhaps the answer is May Day on Taksim Square. Otherwise he could just say: let them celebrate and shout in places where this is allowed. Couldn't the thousands of police officers who cordoned off Taksim Square have guaranteed the safety of the demonstrators there? ... May Day is a symbol, but the symbolic burden of May Day on Taksim Square weighs even heavier for Erdoğan.”

Vreme (RS) /

Strengthen the holiday of freedom

Vreme stresses the symbolism of the day in Serbia:

“To judge by the pronouncements of the populist Serbian regime, 1 May is completely unnecessary. But looking behind the regime's dreamlike rhetoric, what we see is a fear of freedom: wherever there is the possibility that the nation's subjects could be sullied by the phantom of freedom, certain places (for example universities), symbols (1 May) and institutions (the parliament) are to be defiled, rendered meaningless and of course expunged. ... For that reason, reviving 1 May as a day for celebrating our freedom is of the highest social importance: a free man, unlike a subject, is always against a dictatorship.”